Winthrop men’s tennis coach Andrew Stubbs explained to his players before Tuesday’s practice “at the end of your rope is where you get better!”
One player responded with a question: “how do you extend your rope?”
The Eagles, headed to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010, answered that for the next few hours in an urgent workout full of conditioning drills. Afterward, Stubbs’ team watched the NCAA Tournament Selection Show and learned it would face Duke in the first round either Friday or Saturday of next week.
Cid Carvalho’s women’s team was also there watching. The Eagle women won their 17th Big South title and will make a 14th NCAA tourney appearance May 9 against Auburn, in a match at Clemson. This is the first time since 2010 that both programs have made the tournament; Carvalho coached both teams at that time, as he did for 25 years.
This is the Winthrop’s men’s program’s fifth appearance in the NCAA Tournament, following a sixth Big South title. It’s the first NCAA appearance under Stubbs.
“The individuals that make up this team are what really makes my job fun and enjoyable,” said Stubbs. “Great group of guys, really cohesive as a team, really good friends outside of the court; you couldn’t ask for more or for a better group.”
Winthrop men’s tennis (15-9, 6-2 Big South) has won six of its last seven team matches. Stubbs was Carvalho’s assistant in 2010 when the Eagles reached the NCAA tourney and sees similarities.
“Both teams compete really hard in pressure situations. That’s when both teams have played their best,” said Stubbs. “I think it’s that competitive nature and that fight in 2010 that I see this year.”
Stubbs is a former No. 1 player at Wofford College for four straight seasons before earning a master’s degree from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He joined the Winthrop coaching staff five years ago, after spending one season as a graduate assistant at UAB. This is his third season as the school’s head men’s tennis coach.
Carvalho, taking a break from practicing with his women’s team on the opposite side of Winthrop’s tennis complex, said this team has the look of a Stubbs-coached team.
“It took me I don’t how many years to ever make my first NCAA, but he’s coming pretty fast,” said Carvalho. “But it doesn’t surprise me. I’ve known him since he was very young and I’ve always been so impressed with Andrew as a person, his character. I knew he was going to come out here and do an outstanding job with the men’s program. So I couldn’t leave the program in the hands of a better person.”
Before Tuesday’s practice, Stubbs gathered his team in a tight circle. The message was: “to keep working. It’s exciting to win the conference championship and that’s definitely one of our goals, but at the same time I feel like we have a lot more to achieve, we have a lot more improvement. We judge our success by how much we improve and what our potential is, and not by wins and losses.”
For most of the team, this year’s NCAA appearance will be something to build upon. The Eagles only graduate two seniors, Clover’s Chase Altieri and No. 1 Yuta Hirokawa.
“Sad we’re losing Yuta and Chase, but excited that we have a young team and for what the future holds,” said Stubbs.
Speaking of young, the men’s tennis coach doesn’t look too old himself.
“I don’t tell my players, so I can’t tell you either,” Stubbs said, laughing.
Women return to the NCAA Tournament, again
After 28 years coaching tennis at Winthrop, Carvalho doesn’t get too worked up about NCAA tournament berths, but he is thrilled for this year’s team to repeat as conference champions for the seventh straight season after losing its No. 1 and No. 4 players from 2013.
“I’m so proud of these girls,” said Carvalho, a native Brazilian. “They have really bonded as a group and everybody’s playing together and fighting together... you know, this is a very hard team to beat. I think they fight their opponent to the end.”
The Eagles (18-4) are ranked 63rd in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s April 22 poll; new rankings will be released May 1.
Oddly, Winthrop’s best-ever ranking, 41st in 1994, didn’t result in an NCAA Tournament bid. The tourney field was still selected by humans with no computer input; Winthrop was overlooked, despite finishing the regular season 17-0 and beating N.C. State and Virginia Tech, among others.
That won’t be the case this year thanks to an automatic bid for the conference champion.
The Brazilian doubles team of Andressa and Alice Garcia (no relation) went 13-2. No. 1 player Andressa, a 5-foot-2 senior from cosmopolitan Sao Paulo, and No. 2 Alice, a 5-foot-7 sophomore who hails from Brasilia in the heart of the Amazon, both went 12-4 in singles play.
Alice has lived in six different countries and speaks four different languages, due in large part to her diplomat parents.
The Garcias beat Charleston Southern’s Yvonne Hubler and Alexandra Walter 8-5 to help Winthrop claim the doubles point in last weekend’s final.
As a duo, they won 13 of their 15 doubles matches this season, including five of six in conference play. Individually, Andressa went 12-4 in the No. 1 spot, while Alice went 11-4 in the No. 2 slot.
“They’ve been an outstanding doubles team,” said Carvalho. “Both of them blend together very well, they’re very aggressive, great ground-strokes and they’ve really developed their volleys this season. I think the doubles got better and better as the season went on.”
The women’s first round will be May 9. Winthrop has never advanced in the NCAA tournament, because, as Carvalho points out, “you not only have to win one game, you have to have four major upsets.”
Maybe this will be the year?
“I’ve been telling the girls, they have a chance to make history by winning this first round,” said Carvalho, “so we’re really excited.”
Bret McCormick • 803-329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T